So I met Maddy through my brother a few years back and it just so happens that she’s a BNF (that’s Big Name Fan) in the online freeform Harry Potter fandom roleplaying scene, which has probably more total people involved in it than any tabletop roleplaying game. She’s working on an article for Push 2 and, using Thomas Robertson’s interview with Sarah Kahn as a starting point (unfortunately, it’s not available on the web anymore), we talked a bit about her experience with HP-based online play.
me: one of Sarah’s points was that it’s sometimes hard for people to describe what kind of game they’re hoping for 1:00 PM i was wondering if you think that’s true because i’m not sure i see it Madeline: I think it is. 1:01 PM There isn’t easy terminology, and there are more options than in the tabletop world, I feel — or at least more common options. It’s common to have a romance-focused RPG online, for instance, whereas that’s not so common tabletop. me: you can’t be like “semi-canonical, minor-character centered, gay-friendy, sex-positive, etc.” Madeline : Well, you can but “semi-canonical” — what does that mean? Yknow. me: right, there’s a lot of range there Madeline : Also, you can say “romance focused” 1:02 PM me: right, and that could mean a lot of things Madeline: but it’s hard to define what that will mean in the context of the game. which are the “lead characters”? are there any? those lead characters usually develop based on who posts most ultimately and you can’t work that out without actually playing it, at least not well in a journal game you never know whose schedules will line up best unless you’ve played together before. me: right 1:03 PM most of the PBEMs i’ve been in have burned out it seems like you either need a large group or you need a core of really committed people and they have to be committed to each other, not just the game Madeline : Or both me : right Madeline: One of the ways that journal RPGs can help with that is having a fan club when you get reinforcement from fans/readers, it helps you stay on track me: right 1:04 PM Madeline: which is one way I see it being like Primetime Adventures but in a more organic way me: and they post somewhere else, tangentally from the real action? Madeline: if the fans like a small character, that character will get more “air time,” yknow? yes me: seems like there could be better ways to work that into the software allowing fans to reply to actual posts, but have those invisible unless you want to read them Madeline: For instance, the This Is Now/That was Then fans posted on associated communities called TWiTs and TIN_Hats Yeah, that would be really cool 1:06 PM me: so are you planning to talk a bit then about how to make one that’s more than temporarily successful? Madeline : Yes, definitely me: because it seems pretty easy to set them up 1:07 PM but hard to sustain them Madeline : Part of the issue is in the set up me: and even harder to end them effectively Madeline: and rules One of the key things in my mind is having an end in mind. me: tabletop, until recently, has been really bad about endgame it’s only indie games that have focused on that, really because the big companies want you to keep playing forever Madeline: Unless they’re intended as the RPG version of crackfic (like milliways), they need to have a definite endpoint in order to hold together well. 1:08 PM And all the really beloved ones, like NA [Nocturne Alley], have had that endpoint, if they’re intended as a serious game. I also want to talk a little about how to create an online RPG without a “canon” me: right, i think people are more likely to really committ to something where they know the ending 1:09 PM Madeline : or with a modified canon (like Lightning War, which is a Harry Potter RPG set in a WWII alternate universe that’s been around for years) me: what’s the line between collaborative fiction and online RPGs for you? because i’ve done more of the former, really, than the latter Madeline: It’s really fuzzy. Format is a large part of it as is the number of people me: where the posts were longer and there was not that back-and-forth in the comments 1:10 PM Madeline: I’ve been involved in a very large collab fic endeavor part of it has to do with the rights to other characters if you’re in an RPG, you don’t have rights to other characters. At all. at least, not usually. me: the big ones are basically asynchronous MUSH, no? well, many collab fic games have that as a ground rule too 1:11 PM you have to run posts involving other characters by their “owner” first and they can make changes 1:12 PM Madeline: Yeah… I need to think about how it’s different, but I feel like there is a difference in RPGs maybe that there’s more of an emphasis about having the character’s owner narrate what that character is doing first, before you ever begin writing your character’s post rather than you have the right to come up with something, which the “owner” can then change. me: right 1:13 PM more of the GM going “ok, what are you doing?” Madeline : yeah, except with no GM, it’s more like you IM the other character’s player and say “hey, I’d like us to have an interaction, I was thinking that my character would do X,” and going from there. Of course you can post really obfuscatory things 1:14 PM some of the best threads I’ve seen have been people starting trouble by letting the scene just play out me: awesome Madeline : like, posting “DRACO, WHAT DID YOU DO?” with no explanation or previous discussion. Just that. Nothing else. Draco’s player has to decide how to respond. me: right that’s what Mo [Turkington] calls “pull,” I think as opposed to “push” Madeline: nod 1:15 PM me: you solicit creative input from someone else Madeline: It seems like that’s a hallmark of good journal games — an equal balance of pull and push, maybe emphasis on pull. 1:16 PM Because of course other players can jump into discussions they see going on in-character, and bollix things up but good. Doing a bit of their own “pulling.” me: yeah it’s like improv in that way 1:17 PM sometimes throwing another body on the pile is no good but you can’t really create rules for that, no? you just have to set out the issues so people are aware 1:18 PM Madeline: Well, the way it’s often worked in games I’m in is that if you have an exchange you don’t want other people jumping in on, you send the list or the out of character community a warning beforehand “Warning: Harry and Voldemort will be having a sniping series of asides. Please don’t jump in. Harry will make another post afterwards, and you can get your commentary in on that post, but we’d really like this one to just be H&V duking it out.” me: so the players involved have to put up the fence, instead of people checking before tagging in? 1:19 PM Madeline : That’s how it’s always been run as far as I’ve seen it. I like it that way, too. It encourages people to participate. me: i guess that errs on the side of interaction yeah, jinx Madeline: Part of the reason it’s important is time zones if the people who were having the interaction go offline and you come on two hours later, and want to take part, you can’t email them to ask, you have to just do it 1:20 PM me: right how do you deal with flurries of posting by a few people who are online at the same time? Madeline: Uh… be happy? :p me: since that can come to dominate the game pretty fast, no? ha Madeline: It can If it becomes truly excessive, other players usually comment in the OOC about it 1:21 PM but a lot of times that just is part of what develops the game me: sure does it ever get to the point that the game is just too time demanding? Madeline : In TWT, that’s what lead to the marauders becoming very significant background characters, and the secondaries really taking over the sort of clowning mainstream leads. me: because of the ever increasing speed of posting? 1:22 PM so you feel like you have to post all the time, just to keep up? Madeline: Well, sometimes. But you can always opt out. You can either give your character an excuse not to post so much, or you can switch characters with someone/leave the game and find yourself a replacement. For instance, I left That Was Then for that reason, and they got a new Lily/Hermione. 1:23 PM me : yeah, but quitting seems like a bad solution Madeline: And I came into Nocturne Alley because someone had been unable to play their characters or, you can (again) talk about it on the OOC community that was helpful in TWT for a long time. me: especially if you want to be involved, but have like a X hour a week limit Madeline: That’s part of what you talk about going into a game in order to decide what character you get/what game you join. 1:24 PM It gets the same way with tabletop games, and it’s dealt with in the same way either the group changes, or you do, simple as that… me: right, i’m sure things change all the time all of a sudden Colin Creevy becomes the center of a major plot Madeline: Yeah 1:25 PM Also, people tend to have periods of activity/inactivity that go in waves so you’ll have a plot about Colin Creevy and his friends, then they’ll be quieter for a week or two while Hermione takes center stage, then the professors will have a subplot, then Colin Creevy will be back. just cause that’s the way people’s schedules go me: right 1:26 PM also, i bet how “canonical” or “romantic” the game is switches over time too some of it intentional and some of it not Madeline: That can definitely be true heck, or “action-riffic” me: like “holy crap we forgot that X happened two days ago in Book 3″ Madeline: hahaha 1:27 PM Also, you can have games like NA where the subplots were very “romantic” but the overarching plot is canon-focused NA was actually extremely canonical, as far as the overarching plot went. despite the major subplots being sometimes silly and often slashy/romancy 1:33 PM me: is “romance” just a codeword for “slash”? Madeline: No me: because that’s something that laymen should know Madeline: it isn’t 1:34 PM it can mean either there are a lot of games that do het romances, ex. TWT/TIN and Lighting War for that matter me: do people come out and say that they want slash, or are they too embarrassed or socially chastized for it? Madeline : Oh, they totally come out and say it 1:35 PM why would they be embarrassed? LOL. Only rank newbies are bothered by slash, or people who are entrenched in the OBHWF (One Big Happy Weasley Family) end of fandom. And in other fandoms slash seems about equally enjoyed only a minority of people who are devotees of certain het pairings really object to slash, is the general fandom feeling. me: is HP fandom just rolling in their own jargon? i think that may be a trademark of online communities in general Madeline : haha me : the inside jokes stack up like crazy 1:36 PM Madeline: HP fandom has a LOT of jargon, and I’m embarrassed to say I’m responsible for a lot of it I imported a bunch from X-files fandom back in 1999 (wow, long ago) and it caught on a lot. me: ha Madeline: not that it wouldn’t have happened anyway